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Former Shady Side Academy standout set to take field for Pitt

| Wednesday, July 30, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Pete Madia | Courtesy of Pitt athletics
Former Shady Side Academy standout Reggie Mitchell will play in the defensive backfield for Pitt this fall.

Former Shady Side Academy star quarterback and defensive back Reggie Mitchell is back home and chomping at the bit waiting to hit the turf at Heinz Field.

Mitchell, who graduated from SSA in 2012, spent a year at the University of Wisconsin before transferring to Pitt and sitting out a year per NCAA rules.

“They went through some coaching changes at Wisconsin after my freshmen year and some of the coaches who had been recruiting me came to Pitt, including Coach Chryst,” Mitchell said. “An added factor for my transfer was just the thought of being closer to my home. My friends and family now have the opportunity to see me play on a regular basis.”

Mitchell, a 6-foot, 190-pound defensive back, found it difficult to be away from the on-field action last year.

“I tried to stay positive, but I really missed playing,” he said. “It's not easy being off the field. I used the time to watch a lot of film, putting in extra work in the weight room, exercising and just trying to learn more about the defensive system at Pitt.”

He has adapted to the Panthers way of defense, he said.

“At the end of the day, defense is defense. You have to make the plays. The Pitt defense is somewhat similar to the defense at Wisconsin, so I've been able to pick things up quickly. It's not like having to learn an offensive playbook.”

Mitchell still misses the offensive side of things, though. As a senior at Shady Side Academy, he ran for more than 1,600 yards and 16 touchdowns.

“I'll always miss playing quarterback,” he said. “Handling the ball on every play really keeps you focused, but I've been able to maintain that focus on defense.”

In his freshman year at Wisconsin, he only played one game before suffering a season-ending injury. He was in awe of the collegiate football atmosphere.

“We played at Nebraska, and the crowd was just amazing,” he said. “I was used to playing in front of about 200 people in high school, and now there were 80,000 people dressed in red in the stands. It was an experience to remember.”

He has hopes of seeing a lot of playing time at Pitt.

“I'm optimistic. I've been working at nickelback, safety and cornerback,” he said. “We're a little thin in the defensive backfield, and I'm working hard to show the coaches what I can do for the team.”

One coach who already knows what he can do is his high school coach at SSA, Dave Havern. Havern played quarterback at Pitt in the early 1970's and is best remembered for leading the Panthers to the greatest comeback in Pitt history as they defeated West Virginia, 36-35, after being down 35-8 at the half.

“Coach Havern was definitely happy I transferred to Pitt,” Mitchell said. “When I came back and saw him, he was very excited and had a huge smile.”

Havern added: “I just want to see Reggie do well. It's good to have him playing in front of his hometown fans, and I'm sure the people at Pitt will appreciate what a fine young man he is.”

Marty Stewart is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-782-2123 or

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